Jonah Bauer-King (John) and Rose Reade (Julie) convey the complexities of the class systemJohannes Hjorth

Before attending last night’s production of After Miss Julie at the Corpus Playroom I was concerned. As a big fan of Marber’s play and an even bigger fan of the 2012 production at The Young Vic, I felt that an unusually high benchmark had been set. It was both a relief and pleasure to find myself once again transported into the convoluted realm of sexual, gender and class politics; weighty themes which were all skilfully handled. 

Patrick Marber reworks August Strindberg’s Miss Julie (1888), setting the play on the night the Labour Party’s landslide election victory in July 1945. John (Jonah Hauer-King), chauffer to the master of the house, speaks to his betrothed Christine (Kate Reid) about the aristocracy, referring to them as a "dying breed". This sets the tone of divisionism within the play particularly in the mind of John who has a destructive class complex with regard to the mater’s daughter Julie (Rose Reade) to whom he states "a man of my class can rise like bread but not like cake." However, these societal norms come to be overturned as John and Julie turn the servant’s quarters in to an arena in which they expose their desires and inner turmoil.  The set contributed to this notion with the dominating table dividing the stage serving to segregate characters as well as unify them. 

As an emotionally intense three-hander, the play is incredibly demanding. This is heightened by the Corpus Playroom which is an intimate and unforgiving space. Despite this fact, the cast performed exceptionally well and Aoife Kennan’s (director) work on characterisation was clear to see.  

Kate Reid (Christine) grounds the performance wellJohannes Hjorth

It is difficult to highlight a single performance as all three are worthy of note, therefore I will not make omissions. Rose Reade portrayed the complex and multifaceted emotions of Julie powerfully. Reade embodied Julie’s vulnerability, confusion and wild distress simultaneously delivering a striking performance which left the audience questioning whether to hate or pity her. In contrast, Kate Reid grounded the production with an extremely honest portrayal of Christine whose stern exterior fails to wholly conceal her inner upset. The intermediary between the two, Jonah Hauer-King made an impressive acting debut in Cambridge with a consistent and strong depiction of John – both asserting a masculine presence and succumbing to the demands of the women in the play. 

At times After Miss Julie is an uncomfortable watch and as a member of the audience you feel like an uninvited observer. The Corpus playroom became a keyhole into the intimate lives of the characters which were poignantly portrayed. However, the strong performances from the outset and the gripping sequences throughout the play belittled the drama of the ending and there is still scope for a more emotionally charged conclusion. 

That said, the play was an impressive display of high-quality acting and directing which left nothing unexposed. In many ways a deeply distressing play defined by human weakness and societal expectations. Although presented in all three characters, it is overtly evident in Julie who like her bird, is delicate and vulnerable but ultimately caged.